Leaving any relationship is not easy. When the relationship has been abusive, there are special emotional considerations that don’t come with your run-of-the-mill breakup. Here are some things you need to know before leaving an abusive relationship that may make the break more bearable.
It’s Not Your Fault
Your partner may have a habit of blaming you for things that go wrong. You may be wondering what you could have done differently to make the relationship easier. Whether your partner is blaming you or you are blaming yourself, let that go. It’s not your fault. Abuse is a maladaptive way of relating that is hurtful and unhealthy. Nobody makes another person behave that way. It’s a choice.
You Can’t Change Your Partner
Along with shouldering the blame for the abuse, many victims say that they stay as long as they do because they are hopeful that their partner will change. They don’t want to leave so that the next person reaps the benefit of their growth together.
This is quite likely a pipe dream. If your partner hasn’t changed with you, he probably won’t change after you. It has nothing to do with not loving you enough, not being supported enough, or not having enough chances.
Many people grow up in less than healthy circumstances. They don’t learn healthy relationship skills. And then they grow up and have life experiences that show them that something is wrong. If they are motivated to change and have good teachers, they improve.
Some people don’t do that because the guilt and shame is too deep. It’s too hard a hill to climb. Or maybe they are having too much fun being controlling. Everyone can change. No matter how rough life has been, the opportunity to heal and love is there. But if you continue to accept the abuse and make excuses for the abuse, you’re enabling it to continue. Don’t let your compassion keep you in a situation that is not healthy. You’re not going to “save” anyone. You can’t.
This Could Have Happened to Anyone
It’s easy to say, “This could never happen to me.” The truth is, there is no “classic” domestic violence victim. It happens to men, women, young, old, upper socio-economic status people and lower socio-economic people. It crosses all religions and races.
Abusive people are humans. They don’t have horns and red eyes. You can’t tell who they are by looking at them. In fact, they are often quite charming. If you are a compassionate human who responds to affection, kindness, flirting, and appreciation, you’re susceptible. (That’s all of us, folks!)
Abuse Changes Your Brain
Screaming, throwing things, gas lighting, sexual violence, name calling, control, invalidation, and fear changes your brain. It puts you in a state of fight or flight where you don’t see things clearly. You may not see the danger or abuse for what it is. You may feel that you have no options. It could be that you think things are not so bad. This is a particular type of wound that needs specialized attention. You won’t heal by leaving alone.
To get beyond this, it may be helpful to have a trauma therapist. I say “trauma therapist” because not all counselors are trained in the treatment of trauma. In fact, many medical professionals, court personnel, prisons, and police departments don’t know how to spot or deal with trauma. This can lead to being re-victimized. So choose your helpers wisely.
People May Not Believe You
If your abuser is charming and high functioning, people may not believe that your relationship was abusive – especially if you covered for him. He may be very skilled at manipulating facts to make it seem like you’re crazy or abusive. You may lose friends and family as a result. Stick to your guns! Believe in your own perceptions. This will help you on your road to recovery.
It Helps to Talk About it
Maybe shame is keeping you quiet. Maybe no one believes you. Some people are super positive and don’t want to bring others down, so they don’t share. Still others just want to put it behind them. It helps to talk about it. It makes it real. Your story comes out in the light of day where it can be seen for what it is.
Talking about it with others who can empathize makes you stronger. It opens you up to support, connects you with others who can validate your feelings and experiences, and gives you a way to learn from their experiences. Talking can also prevent intrusive thoughts so you have more peace of mind.
Healing is Possible
All things can heal. This is something that can be put behind you. Your future can be safe, healthy, and very different. This moment doesn’t have to define the rest of your life.